Ever had the urge to run a country house hotel? If you have, now’s the time to snap up a bargain. There are 26 of England’s top hotels on the market, the result of the Van Essen group falling into administration with staggering debts of £250 million.
There have long been questions over how the owner Andrew Davis could support the acquisition of so many swanky hotels in such a short period of time. Now Ernst & Young the administrators report ‘discrepancies’ in Von Essen’s accounts for 2010.
Tim Smith, director of the hotel consultancy firm HVS London, is quoted in the Caterer: ‘Each of the group’s 28 hotels is an individual gem in its own right and it is always questionable whether such hotels, especially ones as small as Von Essen’s, can produce enough net income to support the infrastructure of a group.’
Or, as I read it, head office has been creaming off the top.
Having eaten last year at vast expense at two Von Essen joints, the Samling at Windermere and Sharrow Bay on Ullswater, my experience was of two once stunning hotels in decline. Dinner at Sharrow Bay was a tired, almost cynical rehash of its great days and dishes. So indifferent were the staff to our departure we had to go knocking on doors to reclaim our coats.
Similarly, dinner at the Samling featured some ludicrous Squidbeakery epitomised by pork crackling worked into a tasteless stiletto shard. Worse, we felt like we were with the work experience team when they couldn’t find an olive for a dry martini.
If these hotels and the other special occasion retreats such as Seaham Hall in Durham and Callow Hall in Derbyshire return to individual ownership it might be a good thing for them and a good thing for us.